Manual Handling: An Overview


Published: 18 September 2022

Did you know that the rate of manual handling injuries is 58.9% in healthcare compared to 43.9% across all other industries (WorkSafe Victoria 2007)?

Workplace injuries are common in healthcare, and there are many occupational health and safety risks inherently associated with working in the health sector.

This article will look at how you can reduce the risk of injury when performing manual handling tasks.

Manual handling relates to the following Aged Care Quality Standards: Standard 5 - Organisation's Service Environment and Standard 8 - Organisational Governance.

Note: the intention of this article is to provide an overview of manual handling, however, further reading is essential. Refer to the resources listed at the end of the article for more information. It is crucial that you receive appropriate, practical manual handling training and supervision from your facility. You must also follow workplace policies and procedures and be familiar with relevant state/federal Legislation.

What is Manual Handling?

Manual handling includes any activity carried out in the workplace that requires the use of force. It encompasses acts such as:

  • Lifting
  • Pushing
  • Lowering
  • Pulling
  • Moving
  • Holding
  • Restraining
  • Throwing
  • Carrying.

(DoET 2018; Better Health Channel 2017)

safe manual handling man using assistive lifting device
If possible, lighten loads by breaking them into smaller quantities.

Manual Handling Risks in Healthcare

  • Hazardous manual tasks are the largest cause of occupational injury to nurses and midwives
  • Musculoskeletal injuries from patient handling account for a considerable number of manual handling injuries to nurses, midwives and other healthcare workers
  • Insured and uninsured costs of manual handling tasks add significantly to the cost of providing health, aged care and community services
  • A large proportion of manual task-related injuries are preventable
  • Shoulder and back injuries incurred by nurses and midwives often result in long-term or permanent disability.

(NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association 2017)

Manual handling can result in significant or irreversible injuries, particularly musculoskeletal injuries, which may include:

  • Soft tissue injuries
  • Nerve damage or compression
  • Back and neck injuries
  • Bone and joint injuries to hands, feet, shoulder, wrist, hip, knee, ankle etc.
  • Ligament and tendon damage
  • Muscle sprains and strains
  • Chronic pain
  • Acute pain.

(SWA 2011, 2017)

Factors related to manual handling tasks that increase the risk of injury:

  • Shift work, or any work in which you are in a fixed posture for an extended amount of time
  • Fatigue, which may also be impacted by your type of work
  • Older age and other factors that reduce physical ability
  • Previous injury, poor health or a generally low level of fitness
  • Poor workplace design, e.g. one that is cramped or poorly laid out
  • The object to be moved being in an inconvenient location and of considerable weight
  • Loads that are awkward to grasp and move
  • Inadequate staff training
  • Low staffing levels
  • Handling people, which increases the likelihood of strain.

(Better Health Channel 2017; de-Vitry Smith 2021)

safe manual handling man using assistive lifting device
The likelihood of injury is increased when the handling or lifting a person is involved.

Managing Manual Handling Risks

Read: Risk Assessment and Management in the Home

Abide by these four steps to effectively manage hazards associated with manual handling tasks:

1. Identify hazards

  • Inspect the workplace
  • List the hazards you find
  • Talk to other workers
  • Review information about workplace injuries and incidents.

2. Assess the risk(s)

Identify the following in relation to the task:

  • Its weight
  • The movements involved
  • The duration of the task
  • Whether the task requires high or sudden force
  • Whether the task involves vibration.

3. Control the risk(s)

Using the hierarchy of controls, apply the following methods of hazard prevention in order of highest protection to lowest protection:

  1. Elimination
  2. Substitution
  3. Isolation
  4. Engineering
  5. Administrative actions
  6. Personal protective equipment.

4. Review risk controls

Implemented control measures should be reviewed and, if necessary, revised.

( 2020)

Methods to Prevent Injury During Manual Handling

  • Explore ways to minimise lifting heavy items
  • If possible, lighten loads by breaking them into smaller quantities
  • Prevent muscle strain and fatigue. This includes warming up before working, taking rest breaks, and allowing time to get used to a new task
  • Move your feet rather than twisting your back, reduce or avoid bending, twisting, reaching movements
  • During long shifts change tasks so as to give specific muscles a break
  • Try not to rush due to lack of time, competing demands, lack of staff or patient needs - you should value your own safety
  • Use the appropriate equipment and assistive devices correctly, and use mechanical aids when possible
  • Do not use poorly maintained equipment or equipment you have not been trained for
  • Do not be afraid to ask for help and use teamwork
  • Watch out for and support peers to care for themselves in the workplace
  • Attend and advocate for regular training on manual handling
  • Abide by workplace manual handling policies and guidelines
  • Abide by the principles of proper body alignment and body mechanics
  • Learn how to recognise activities that have the potential for injury and act to reduce the risk
  • Avoid performing high-risk activities.

(WorkSafe NZ 2-17; de-Vitry Smith 2021; DoET 2018)

Always question procedures and practices that seem outdated, and don’t be afraid to speak up if you perceive a risk to you or your coworkers.

employer shows employee safe manual handling technique to prevent or limit risk of injury
Abide by the principles of proper body alignment and body mechanics.

Review Relevant State/Federal Legislation

You should be familiar with (and thus refer to) relevant state/federal legislation that stipulates the roles of both employers and employees.

All workplaces should have policies and procedures on manual handling and hazard, incident and injury reporting. The Work Health and Safety Act 2011 applies to employees and employers. Breaches of duty under the work health and safety legislation could result in penalties.

Disclaimer: This article is to be used in conjunction with your organisation’s policies and procedures regarding manual handling. This article does not replace the theory of mandatory training regarding manual handling from your organisation. Appropriate theoretical and practical training of manual handling in your workplace should be provided by your employer.


Test Your Knowledge

Question 1 of 3

True or false: The rate of manual handling injuries is higher in healthcare than in other industries.


educator profile image
Ausmed View profile
Ausmed’s editorial team is committed to providing high-quality, well-researched and reputable education to our users, free of any commercial bias or conflict of interest. All education produced by Ausmed is developed in consultation with healthcare professionals and undergoes a rigorous review process to ensure the relevancy of all healthcare information and updates to changes in practice. If you have identified an issue with the education offered by Ausmed or wish to submit feedback to Ausmed's editorial team, please email with your concerns.